Countdown to The Bone of Contention
Hometeam Championship preview
Garrison Killer, League reporter
The Minnesota RollerGirls conclude their sixth historic season at the Legendary Roy Wilkins Auditorium on April 3, 2010. Like every other bout this season, we will bring you two matches of intense, edge-of-the-seat action...but our season's end is special. Our top two home teams will play for the opportunity to raise the Golden Skate - our championship trophy - on the track of the Roy. Our other two teams will compete for the honor of third place.
The language of sport is hyperbole. We speak of the greatest, the fastest, the strongest, the most clever. In the three years that I've written about the MNRG, I've shoehorned more than my share of adverbs into my commentaries. But I will tell you with utmost confidence that these matches will be the hardest-fought that you have yet seen in the Roy. Let's take a look at the first matchup so that you may judge for yourselves.
The Championship Bout - The Atomic Bombshells (3-0) v The Rockits (2-1)
Three years ago, the Atomic Bombshells brought together some of the very best players from across the league and went from last to first in a single season. They defeated the Rockits in the finals and claimed the championship in April of 2007. In the two seasons since, the Rockits have won the championship...first against the Dagger Dolls in the finals of 2008, then the Garda Belts in 09. In fact, the Rockits were not defeated a single time in the intervening years.
The red Rockits now must defend their title against the only team that has beaten them in the season championship. But while the legacy of the Bombshells during the finals of 2007 is written upon the Golden Skate, the orange-wearing ABS has far more recently defeated the Rockits. It was only in January that Misfit Maiden and Mitzi Massacre - co-captains and veterans of the '07 team - shocked the MNRG by breaking the Rockits' two-year streak, coming from behind and winning by two (78-76). The two teams now return to the track to play for the Golden Skate.
So...is there a little history between these teams? Yes...yes, there is.
Now, The Bombshells are undefeated this year - each bout won by 25 or fewer points. Victory for the Bombshells doesn't come from an onslaught of point-scoring; it comes from their defensive line making plays as offense. Don't believe me? If you look at the stats, the three top jammers for the team get lead at least 60% of the time (L'exi Cuter got it 78% of the time - 100% against the Rockits in their last meeting). While Mae and Venus and L'exi are all very, very good jammers, it's the way that their pack holds together and pushes them through that gets the lauds.
When the Bombshells get the jam, they control the one precious commodity in roller derby - the jam clock. A jam goes for two minutes...or whenever the lead jammer says it's time to stop. If you have the lead, you can score, call off the jam and zero the jam clock before the opposing player can make a point. By holding the clock, the Bombshells have controlled the pace of the game all this season. It's an outrageous record; Bombshells controlled the jam almost two-thirds of every game.
Their opponents - the Rockits - have their own brand of derby play. Two strategies have unfolded from this year's play...they're almost polar opposites, but they've been effective:
*Hit out or trap players furthest in back - these are usually rookies or players that have recently fallen to a hit. If an opposing player goes down, that's one less player to have to pass for the jammer coming careening around. If a player is trapped, the Rockits can box up the player, hit the brakes, and form a pack...usually putting the opposition's other players far in front of that pack. A player twenty feet ahead of the pack cannot engage a jammer (making them completely uneffective as blockers), but there's an added risk. If the player turns around and skates back into the pack and makes contact with an opposing player, that's a penalty; it's called 'skating clockwise to block' and will generally have a player sent to the box. Crazy stuff, but very clever, and something of a tactical coup.
*Attack the strongest player on the team, whether blocker, pivot, or jammer. This sounds a little counterintuitive; here's an example to clarify. In Garda Belts v Rockits in February, a number of the women in red started to lay into Tiki Torture and Hanna Belle Lector instead of the jammer. Why? Well, in that game, Tiki and Hanna were making roads for their scorers to skate down. By neutralizing the trailblazer, the Rockits made it more difficult for the opposing jammer to make it through the pack. The Rockits seem to find the linchpin of each line of five and go after them, while still helping their own jammer through.
One other thing the Rockits do: they score a lot of points. 40% of the points scored in MNRG home games have been scored by the Rockits. A lot of those points are scored off of power jams created by Rockit blockers catching opposing jammers with track-cutting penalties or other illegal procedures. Double and triple-slams (10 or 15-point jams) get scored by almost every Rockit jammer in more than a few jams, due those penalty-box visits by opposing jammers.
If you've gotten this far in reading the preview, you're probably looking for some sort of take on who will come out of this triumphant. Since I'm fresh out of omens, I can only tell you what you might want to watch for.
Fans should look for the following from the Atomic Bombshells:
* They've done it all season, they just have to do it for forty more minutes. Open those lines for their jammers...get them to the front first so they can control the clock.
* If they get a power jam, they might consider flying through the pack. Bombshells rarely take full advantage of point-scoring opportunities when an opposing jammer heads to the box. Instead, they would rather call off a jam when a secondary jammer is in the box. Mae Gusta, Venus Thightrap, and Jocelyn D'Jewels all did a superlative job of messing with Suzie by holding jammers that were not scoring well in the box. This kept Suzie out of play. That is not going to work with most of the players that the Rockits will put on the jammer line. Harmony, Scarmen Hellectra, Abbie Mischief, and Vuedoo Prodigy have the numbers to prove that they are all going to be threats. Instead, the Bombshells might want to knock a Rockit down or out of play as an easy point for their unopposed jammer and keep them lapping the pack.
* If their own jammer gets sent to the box...the Bombshells must contain their cool. The only double-digit jams scored by the Rockits on the Bombshells in their initial meeting happened during a power jam. The women in orange turned the aggressive hitting to eleven and got sent to the box off of their illegal hits. 35 points scored over two jams, mostly because the jammer had almost no one that they had to pass who was actually skating and blocking. The Bombshell team can smoosh opponents with explosive blocking, but only if they're on the track instead of on their way to the penalty box.
Rockit fans, your guide follows:
* The Rockits must not relinquish the lead jammer position. They landed leads in the January bout against the Bombshells only six times in twenty-four jams. A team can't win on the backs of that record; the women in red must win the race to the front of the pack.
* A pack with fewer Bombshells = point gains. Now, this is always true; more players up and skating for a team is generally a Good Thing...but it has special meaning for the Bombshells. The Bombshells play best when they can make plays as a team; they tend to be coordinated and ready to jump into a new formation or explode a pack. The fewer the players up and skating, the less well they can execute. If the Rockits can go after a two-person unit just before the Bombshell jammer starts attempting a scoring pass, they'll screw the jammer's progress and whatever the team was planning for that pass.
* Expect fast Rockits and slow Rockits. The Rockits have dynamic speed; they can slow a pack in a heartbeat to trap an unwary blocker or start racing to avoid any but the fastest jammers. If the speed of the pack is being controlled by a pack of Rockits (in front and sprinting or in back and barely moving forward), the Atomic Bombshells will be playing right into the Rockits' hands.
Too much spectacular play has built up to this moment to accurately handicap this matchup. The only solution is to be there as the countdown runs out and this pitched battle begins for the Golden Skate.
Check back soon as we look at the Garda Belt/Dagger Doll matchup.